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In the US pandemic, remembering a shrine in Lahore one week ago

We’re back in the US, and the nation is in the throes of coronavirus terror.

For me, this is a moment to look back to a day a week ago, in Lahore. We visited the Darbar of Hazrat Mian Mir one evening, just before maghrib prayers.

Crowds of men, women, and children wandered all over, observing the same proxemics that get me nervous. I kept my teenager in my sight as we wended our way through a busy street.

We made our way through a dusty street, and were told to deposit our excellent European shoes with some guy, in a pile of locally acquired flip-flops. Having done this, we had to walk barefoot a few long, long steps in a dusty, dirty street that saw the traffic of many humans and animals. We entered the daalaan or courtyard of Hz. Mian Mir, expecting it to be as serene and quiet as it was last time we visited. It was not. A troupe of qawwali singers were singing devotional songs.

We walked barefoot across the marble courtyard. The floor was spattered with pigeon droppings. I saw my husband and daughter, true to their American habits, were wearing socks – I kicked myself for not doing so. It was hard for me to concentrate because I was so aware of germs, dust, pigeon droppings.

We prayed the ‘asr prayer in the masjid area. As I stood up, a man genially approached my husband and informed him the women’s area was over there. I snapped at him good-humoredly, because I am older than him, probably, pointing to the supposed women’s area. Every area in the courtyard had men, women, and children. There is no women’s area. He grinned, and left.

We prayed. The chatai, the plastic woven prayer ‘rug’ was dusty.

When we finished, I sat for a muraqaba-e-shaikh, meditating, opening my heart to the faizan of Hz Mian Mir. The dust, dirt, noise, and pigeon droppings fell away.

Today, we sit in our home in Evanston. Not a single coronavirus case has been found here. The schools will close today. There isn’t any hand sanitizer or toilet paper left in the stores. Everybody is losing their shit.

At this time, I remember that moment of serenity, surrounded by people of mostly humble and working classes, with not a single hand sanitizer in sight, in the dusty 17th century courtyard.

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